It happens literally dozens of times everyday. I’m walking to class or sitting down for lunch or hanging out by the water fountain, and suddenly it happens. I see another person and one of us says, “Hey! How are you?” The other person replies, “Good! How are you?” And then that person responds with, “I’m good!” And then it’s over. That’s the end of the conversation. Each of us continues to go about his or her day. We’ll both probably forget that so-called conversation within a couple of minutes. And neither of us walks away with a sense of actual connection with another person or any idea of what the other person is actually going through. I know it may sounds like a small thing, but to me, it just feels so empty. And that is really starting to bother me.
Most of the time when we ask someone how they’re doing, we aren’t really asking out of concern for their person well-being. We’re just being polite. And that’s a shame. I’m as guilty of it as anyone else, so this blog post (like most that I write) is directed towards myself as much as it is towards anyone else. But this is something that’s been on my mind a lot lately, and I thought it might be worth writing about.
The problem isn’t trying to be polite. Politeness is a good thing. That’s why we teach it to children. It shows them how to act in a socially acceptable way and show respect to other people. That’s great. But it becomes an issue when it goes from trying to be polite to putting on a facade of caring about one another’s well-being when we really don’t. Or maybe we really do, but we’re not taking the time to really give the other person an opportunity to share how they’re doing and share with them how we’re doing. It’s become a socially acceptable lie, and I don’t wish to be a part of it anymore.
Because the truth is that I’m not always feeling good. The truth is that a lot of the time, I’m feeling sad, or frustrated, or anxious. But I would never tell someone that just in passing. I think that asking someone, “How are you?” and expecting them to respond with, “Good,” is a way of promoting shallowness and even inauthenticity when we interact with one another. We say we want people to be real, and yet we don’t really give them a chance to be. Instead of truly showing care for their well-being, we pretend that we do when really all we’re saying is, “Hello.”
I’m not saying this is done with bad intent. Sometimes, it can change the entire course of my day when someone simply asks me, “How are you doing?” And I try to make a point to ask people how they’re doing just in case there is something they need to talk about. But the vast majority of the time, the question, “How are you?” ends with a shallow, easy-to-forget interaction that doesn’t do much for either person involved. And maybe I’m crazy, but I think we can do better than that.
So here’s what I’m proposing. I’m going to attempt to do this, and if you’d like to try it, you can, too. From here on out, when I ask someone how they’re doing, I’m going to mean it. I’m going to give them a real opportunity to tell me how they’re doing, not just use it as a polite way to say hello in passing. And when someone asks me how I’m doing, I’m going to be honest with them. Now I’m not going to tell my whole life story to a stranger on the street, but I’m going to say something other than just, “Good.” When I’m happy, I’ll tell them I’m happy. When I’m stressed, I’ll tell them I’m stressed. I’m going to be real with them. And maybe that will give them an opportunity to be real with me, too.
Because that’s what we really crave. Real, authentic, meaningful connections with our fellow human beings. We want someone to truly ask us how we’re doing and mean it. So I’m choosing to mean it. And I hope you will, too. Thank you for reading, friends. I would love to talk with you and hear (for real) how you’re doing, so feel free to hit me up on social media anytime. Have a great week!